The cities of San Francisco and Oakland have filed lawsuits against Chevron, Exxon, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell for the effect of their activities on climate change: higher sea levels. The cities seek billions in damages to counteract the effects of the changing climate.
Reuters quoted San Francisco officials as saying that the five oil companies “knowingly and recklessly created an ongoing public nuisance that is causing harm now and in the future risks catastrophic harm to human life and property.”
The companies themselves were restrained in their comments, with Chevron saying the lawsuits would only serve special interests rather than effect a real change, and Exxon finding the claims made by the cities lacking in merit. Conoco and BP did not comment, and Shell said climate change should be addressed by government policy and cultural change rather than by litigation.
This is not the first time that communities decided to sue Big Oil like they sued Big Tobacco 30 years ago.
Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish is pursuing 21 different lawsuits against Big Oil for damage to the state’s wetlands, which is causing coastal erosion. Five of the lawsuits have already been scheduled for 2019.
Chevron is the defendant in 19 of the 21 cases.
California itself is no stranger to such legal action. In July, three coastal communities—Marin and San Mateo Counties, and City of Imperial Beach—filed suits against 37 oil, gas, and coal companies for damage done to the environment through carbon dioxide pollution.
The plaintiffs claim the companies have know for half a century that greenhouse gas emissions are conducive to climate change but have deliberately concealed this, leaving the local communities to pick up the check for remedial measures.
In all likelihood, this is just the start of a flood of lawsuits as the debate about who should bear the costs of climate change heats up. The dominant opinion seems to be shifting away from taxpayers and towards energy companies, as research-based evidence suggests that some of the emissions causing climatic change can be traced back to companies producing oil and gas.